Category: Film


The highly anticipated third trailer for The Dark Knight Rises was finally released by Warner Brothers yesterday and while it didn’t disappoint, I can’t say it completely blew me away either. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I think this will be very good movie, but I just don’t expect it to be on par with The Dark Knight. As far as this summer’s blockbusters, Prometheus still looks like the best of the bunch; the trailers and viral videos give me chills every time I watch them.

What is abundantly clear from the latest Dark Knight Rises trailer is that Bane’s vocals have been noticeably cleaned up since Christopher Nolan first premiered footage from the film back in December. Some of the things I found troubling were what appeared to be sloppily choreographed action scenes and less than stellar special effects which are most evident in the football stadium scene and the Batwing sequence. Hopefully these are things that Nolan can clean up during post-production before the final product hits screens on July 20.

My other source of concern is non other than Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. It’s no secret that Nolan has missed the mark with his casting choices for the female leads in the two previous Batman instalments. While Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachel was a vast improvement over the atrocious Katie Holmes, she still felt somewhat miscast in the role. This brings us to Anne Hathaway, who – no matter how hard she tries – just seems too wholesome and dull to embody the dark and sinister persona of Selina Kyle. I also found that Catwoman’s costume looked a tad silly with those pointy ears on top of her head, especially since Nolan has always strived for realism in his Batman trilogy. The scenes showing Batman and Catwoman fighting alongside each other also gave off that uneasy Batman and Robyn vibe, which began to bring back dreadful memories of the infamous Joel Schumacher cheese-fest.

Maybe I’m just nit-picking, but my expectations for this film are extremely high. Again, the issue is not whether The Dark Knight Rises will be good movie, but whether it will be a great one. I do have faith in Christopher Nolan though and hope that he delivers a thrilling and moving conclusion to his caped crusader trilogy.

To no one’s surprise, Gary Ross’ widely anticipated and hyped, The Hunger Games topped the weekend box-office with an astounding $152. 5 million. Although, I had never read Suzanne Collins’ novels on which the film is based, I was genuinely excited to see this movie, especially because of all the critical praise that it was receiving. Sadly, this was one of those films that I really wanted to like but enjoyed less and less as it went on.

This is not to say that The Hunger Games is a bad film – it’s actually quite good in parts – but I couldn’t help feeling that the movie was superficial and soulless. The film is pretty thin on plot and the concept of a dystopian future featuring games where contestants fight to the death has been done before. The Running Man, Roller Ball, Death Race 2000 and Battle Royale (which I have yet to see) have all covered similar ground. However, I am not suggesting that just because something is not original, it’s necessarily bad; lack of originality is certainly not my issue with The Hunger Games.

I’ll start with the acting, while Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the main protagonist, Katniss Everdeen is very strong, several other Hunger Games contestants were painful to watch on screen. I cringed every time Amanda Stenberg’s, Rue had scenes involving dialogue. The actors portraying the adult characters were fine for the most part, but hardly spectacular; Donald Sutherland, however, looked bored in his mailed in performance of President Snow. Then again, stellar acting is not something I expect in this genre and it’s also not my main gripe with the film.

For a relatively big budget sci-fi film where the main story line revolves around a brutal game involving contestants fighting to the death, action scenes in The Hunger Games were for the most part, incomprehensible. The majority of the action employed the shaky-cam technique, which became extremely bothersome after a while. It’s extremely disappointing when action/thriller films constantly feature scenes where you can’t distinguish who’s fighting who or what is happening on screen altogether. In the case of The Hunger Games, this technique felt extremely gimmicky, as it was often used to mask the violence in the film in order to maintain its PG-13 rating. I also have to admit that the production values on a film this big were quite underwhelming (apart from the costumes); the sparse special effects failed to impress and the majority of the movie takes place in a very unspectacular forest-like environment.

Again, I do not want to give the impression that I absolutely hated this film. I thought Jennifer Lawrence was great and found the first half to be very captivating. I also appreciated the movie’s social critique of North American greed and the modern obsession with reality television; I realize that this material is miles ahead of other films aimed at similar audiences à la Twilight. Had the director presented the content in an edgier fashion (it is after all a film about a violent game where the main goal is to eliminate your opponents) and actually held the camera steady during the action scenes, I think I would have enjoyed The Hunger Games a lot more than I did.

6.8/10

In a year where the Best Picture Oscar went to The Artist and nominees included the awful, War Horse, the mediocre Money Ball and the critically panned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I think it’s safe to say that 2011 was not a good year for film. Thankfully, now that 2011 is well behind us and the Oscars have come and gone, it’s time to forget about last year’s weak offerings and look forward to what Hollywood has in store for moviegoers in 2012.

February – otherwise known as the month when Hollywood unloads bad or shelved product – has finally passed and a slew of AAA titles are right around the corner. Without doubt, I am most looking forward to the upcoming Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises.

Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens are sci-fi classics that have spawned numerous less than stellar sequels; the franchise’s low points were the recent Alien vs Predator and Alien vs Predator: Requiem. Hence, I was admittedly skeptical when I learned that Ridley Scott was returning to the Alien universe with a prequel entitled, Prometheus. My initial thought was that after a string of bad flops, Scott –in need of a hit – was simply returning to familiar territory that made him an icon. However, after seeing the trailer, I was completely blown away. The film looks like old-fashioned R-rated sci-fi that seems to have disappeared and replaced with everything PG-13 and Marvel. The cast also appears to be very strong and includes the talented Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pierce and Idris Elba. Prometheus opens on June 8th and I’m already counting down the days to its release.

What more can be said about the Dark Knight Rises? Forget the entire Bane muffled audio fiasco that has internet and comic books geeks in an uproar. The film will undoubtedly be the biggest hit of the year and most importantly, it will be very good. While I doubt that the third and final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy will reach the greatness of its predecessor, I have faith in Nolan’s visionary direction and believe that he will ultimately deliver a thrilling and emotional conclusion to the series. The only reservations I have so far are the casting of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and the unfortunate absence of Heath Ledger, who helped transform The Dark Knight in to an instant classic. Nevertheless, Tom Hardy is a great up-and-coming young actor whose Bane looks like a formidable foe to Christian Bale’s sociopathic Batman/Bruce Wayne. The latest trailer and art work suggest an even darker tone than that of The Dark Knight and perhaps even a tragic fate for the caped crusader. The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20th and my anticipation for this one is extremely high.

Adapted from a novel by the same name, Lynne Ramsay’s new film, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a chilling portrayal of a mother who is forced to ask herself the question no parent should ever have to: is my child a psychopath? The concept of breeding evil children is certainly not new to film and has been explored in The Omen, Children of the Corn and more recently, The Good Son. However, We Need to Talk About Kevin takes a fresh approach to the formula and not only focuses on Kevin’s (Ezra Miller) disturbing personality but also on the trauma a parent is forced to endure because of their offspring. One of the most disturbing ideas the film explores is the possibility of someone being born with an inherently evil personality rather than being shaped by external factors such as their upbringing and environment.

The film follows a dysfunctional family, Eva (Tilda Swinton), her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), their son Kevin and young daughter Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich). The story is mainly conveyed through Eva’s flashbacks and early scenes of her arriving at a crime scene foreshadow the events that eventually lead to tragedy. The tension between Eva and Franklin is exemplified early on, as she reluctantly agrees to put her career as a travel writer on hold and move to suburbia in order to start a family. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear to Eva that something is very wrong with Kevin and their relationship get substantially worse as the boy grows older. While Kevin displays intense hatred towards Eva and maliciously taunts her at every opportunity, he appears quite fond of his father. Kevin’s Jekyl/Hyde personality makes it ever more difficult for Eva to convince Franklin of their son’s psychotic tendencies. As the tension between Eva and Franklyn builds, Kevin’s frightening behaviour begins to spiral out of control.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is anchored around the magnificent performances of the delightfully strange Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller, who effectively embodies the cold-blooded and evil nature of Kevin. The film features some wonderful cinematography and an interesting art-house script, but mainly succeeds on the strength of the two aforementioned performances. Swinton masterfully channels Eva’s burden, anger, fear and sadness while Miller’s portrayal of Kevin is quite frightening. As strong as these performances are, the immensely talented John C. Reilly seems miscast as the naive husband, Franklin; I was never fully convinced of him and Swinton as a believable couple. Both Franklin and Kevin’s younger sister, Celia seemed like one-dimensional characters that were provided with very little screen time. However, the story is really about the relationship between Eva and Kevin; in this respect the film works extremely well. We Need to Talk About Kevin asks some very difficult questions and may strike fear into the heart of anyone considering becoming a parent, but the film is nevertheless worth seeing for Swinton and Miller’s exceptional performances as well as Ramsay’s unconventional method of storytelling.

7.8/10

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is an ambitious and brave piece of work that I certainly admired but sadly couldn’t bring myself to fully enjoy. The film attempts to address the meaning of life by tracing the life of Jack O’Brian (Hunter McCracken/Sean Penn) and his relationship with his stern father (Brad Pitt), nurturing mother (Jessica Chastain) and younger brother.

The film cuts back and forth between Jack’s childhood upbringing in 1950’s suburban Texas and his seemingly melancholy adult self (Sean Penn) still attempting to come to grips with the death of his brother. In between all of this, Malick includes lengthy National Geographic style sequences featuring dinosaurs, sea creatures, microbes, cosmic eruptions and breathtaking nature imagery. Although I understood how these sequences tied into the film’s main storyline of creation and destruction, I couldn’t help but feel that they were distracting, obtrusive and at times overly lengthy. One can compare these vignettes to those in 2001: A Space Odyssey; however, the late Stanley Kubric somehow made it all work in a superior film.

The performances in the film are quite strong, especially Pitt’s portrayal of Mr. O’Brian, the often abusive yet loving father who’s character is symbolic of nature’s brutality and grace. Sadly, the performances can’t carry this picture above Malick’s fragmented style of storytelling which makes the audience feel like a distant observer travelling back and forth through time and space. We never feel completely invested in the characters or their stories simply because the film does not flesh them out (with the exception of Pitt’s character); all too often the script relies on visual imagery rather than dialogue, which makes the characters appear like an afterthought. I believe the film would have benefited from spending more time exploring Jack’s adult years. Instead, we are provided with a brief cameo from Sean Penn in which we are supposed to assume that Jack (now an architect) leads an unfulfilled yet financially successful life.

By the finale, rather than being enlightened, I was left feeling empty and quite frankly a bit bored. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy Terrence Malick’s work; I thought his underrated WWII drama, The Thin Red Line was in some ways superior to the more popular Saving Private Ryan, which was released during the same year. Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings, The Tree of Life deserves at least one viewing for its sheer scope and ambitious storytelling technique that attempts to tackle possibly the most important questions of all: how did we come to be and what is the meaning of our existence?

7/10

I can think of several words to describe director Steve McQueen’s powerful film, Shame, but as a whole, it was a haunting piece of work that stayed with me long after the credits rolled.  Make no mistake, this complicated character study is not for everyone; the film is extremely explicit in its portrayal of sexual addiction and builds slowly towards its powerful finale.  Like an onion, the ambiguous script asks the audience to peel away the film’s narrative layers in order to comprehend its deeper meaning.

The film follows Brendan (played by Michael Fassbender), a successful and handsome 30-something New Yorker who seemingly has it all. Brendan appears to have a well paying job, owns a spacious Manhattan condo with a stunning view, and attracts a slew of beautiful women with ease. Yet, something is amiss; Brendan spends his days fuelling his intense sex addiction and is incapable of forming personal relationships with anyone, including his own little sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Every aspect of this film represents the protagonist’s detached state, from its cold muted colour palette to the point-of-view shots where we experience the world through Brendan’s male gaze.

On the surface, it would appear that the film is simply about sex addiction since the script never fully reveals the cause behind Brendan’s obsession. However, it’s implied that both Sissy and Brendan are equally flawed and deeply affected by their past.

We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.

Sissy says to Brendan during a heated argument. Brendan and Sissy bear a shame that looms large over their lives and deal with their scars in different ways, both of which are equally heartbreaking.

Shame has garnered mainly positive reviews from critics, especially because of Michael Fassbender’s courageous and brilliant performance (he was rightfully nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe and certainly deserves to win). Yet, one of this year’s very best films has only managed to conjure up a 78% approval rating from popular review website and forum, Rotten Tomatoes and has largely gone unnoticed by moviegoers (many people I’ve talked to have never even heard of it).  This is possibly due to in part to the film’s explicit subject matter and its harsh NC-17 rating. Nevertheless, Shame deserves to be seen and talked about. This is without a doubt one the year’s best films.

9/10

Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn’s critically acclaimed film should have been nominated for numerous awards but has been completely snubbed by the Golden Globes and I am quite certain it will fail to strike a chord with this year’s Oscar voters.  To make matters worse, the film has been largely ignored by mainstream audiences.  Who’s to blame?

It’s no secret that major award ceremonies are mostly a sham, where major studios spend large sums of money canoodling voters into ensuring that cookie-cutter offerings such The King’s Speech take home the coveted Best Picture prize.  Where does Drive fit in all of this? The film’s nameless protagonist played by Ryan Gosling (Driver) barely speaks throughout its lean 100 minute running time and yet conveys more raw emotion than many recent onscreen characters that come to mind. No, Drive won’t be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and Gosling’s mesmerizing performance will go unnoticed in favour of his role in drek like Crazy Stupid Love.

What’s even more upsetting is that audiences were misled into believing they were going to see a slam-bang action thriller filled with mobsters and endless car chases. Don’t get me wrong, the film certainly has its share of ruthless gangsters, some thrilling car chases and blood galore, but at its core, Drive is a love story.  Gosling admits that both he and Refn were immensely inspired by John Hughs’ 80’s teen romance films:

“We were watching Pretty in Pink, and we agreed that if there was head-smashing in it, it would be the perfect film. Lack of violence was keeping 16 Candles from being a masterpiece.”

While the filmmakers behind Drive had certainly created an original and captivating piece of art, Hollywood aims to sell its product and decided that marketing the film as a run-of-the mill action movie would lead to big returns at the box office.  Many filmgoers were disappointed that the wall-to-wall action they saw in the trailer was not necessarily what they witnessed in the finished product. Of course, bad word of mouth from action fans quickly began to spread and the movie never had a chance.

It is sorely disappointing that one of the best films of the year has been left out to dry. It proves that audiences just don’t appreciate sophisticated filmmaking anymore and have become brainwashed by a steadfast diet of fast-food like offerings such as: Transformers, uninspired movies based on EVERY Marvel character ever created and a plethora of computer generated family ‘classics’ a la The Smurfs.  Yes, the majority of films are not made these days, they’re simply manufactured on a conveyer belt and apparently that’s exactly what moviegoers seem to prefer.

9/10


Copyright © 2016 Alex Vainberg.